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Saturday 22 May 2010

South Of Broad

by Pat Conroy

‘South of Broad’ continues Pat Conroy’s penchant for big sweeping novels exploring topical themes in gorgeous settings. One of my favourite novels of all time is his wonderful ‘Beach Music’ so I eagerly anticipated a good read in his latest tome, set in Charleston, South Carolina.

Told in five parts, Conroy tosses the reader around between different times and events. It begins in June 1969, when the protagonist, ungainly high school junior Leopold Bloom King is asked by his mother, the school principal, to befriend some incoming students. That day Leo meets the friends he will grow with into adulthood.

There are the brother and sister orphans, Starla and Niles Whitehead; charismatic twins Sheba and Trevor Poe, Leo’s new neighbours; aristocratic ‘old Carolinians’ brother and sister Chad and Fraser Rutledge; Chad's equally patrician girlfriend, Molly Huger; and Ike Jefferson, one of the first African Americans to be integrated into the public school.

They triumph over class and race lines, which become irrelevant except for good-natured bantering. As adults, some of them marry each other. The stunningly-beautiful Sheba will become a sexy Hollywood movie star with a foul mouth, while Trevor, a gifted musician, will head to San Francisco where he will become the toast of the gay community.

The group experiences many events which are often tear-jerking. They win and lose big football games coached for the first-time by a negro, they venture en masse to San Francisco to find and rescue AIDS’s-ravaged Trevor, they are stalked by Sheba and Trevor's psychotic killer of a father, and Leo frets over his estranged, damaged wife. And then hurricane Hugo hits Charleston.

Right from the beginning of the story, there is a discordant note which continues to play throughout the novel, the baffling suicide of Leo's gifted elder brother. Leo was only 8 when he found his brother, ‘his arteries severed, dead in the bathtub…’ This horrific incident led to ‘a collective nervous breakdown’ in the remaining family members. The truth of the suicide finally revealed is equally horrific.

I turned the pages with relish. It’s one of those books you don’t want to finish, but can’t stop reading. It is lush, lyrical and beautiful. The beginning of the novel is a hymn of praise to ‘the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston.’ Anyone who cherishes Conroy's work will love this novel.

Reviewed by Denise Covey who blogs at L’Aussie


joanne fox said...

My 'to read' list grows ever longer! Thanks for the tip. I did enjoy 'The Prince of Tides'.

Denise Covey said...

Too many books, not enough time Joanne! I highly recommend 'Beach Music.' It's beyond wonderful.